Trying to Knock Out Stigma and Getting My Ass Kicked Instead…

People have been following my blog! That’s awesome! My readers rock. Seriously, I have some impressive readers. Biologist painters, medical doctors with a gift for photography, C-suite women who raise beautiful kids, and readers who know how to describe psychological phenomena more vividly than I have learned in years of therapy. What would my therapist say about being jealous of someone else’s descriptions of therapy?

This is a blog about failure. Future posts will return to my usual tone, but I warn you ahead of time, levity doesn’t really describe this post. If I’m going to write honestly about failure, I must also write honestly about what it does to me. RSD spirals do eventually end, but the one I am in sure hasn’t yet! Until it does, I am handing over the reins for today’s “guest post” to the bully in my brain called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.

First confession: I was starting to think that maybe I was semi-accomplished, too. People who write beautifully have been reading my blog, and they have been posting kind, helpful comments. It has been incredibly therapeutic to talk to people openly about my struggles. Yes, this blog is written under a pseudonym, so not technically fully open, but if in your real life you are that girl who still hasn’t even told her friends and co-workers she might have another chronic illness, it feels pretty open. Blogging has been very soothing, and exploring my readers’ words while sharing my own has really made me more confident.

Maybe too confident. I started this blog to get outside my comfort zone and to learn to tolerate RSD. Since my readers are lovely people and don’t write negative things in the comments, I foolishly decided to push the rejection envelope a little harder myself. From my readers, I’ve learned about The Mighty, a kind of Huffington Post media aggregator for mental health and chronic illness. They accept anonymously authored pieces and previously published blog pieces. Buoyed by the warm response of my readers, I adapted one of my more popular posts, Rejecting My Diagnoses: Am I Really a Spoonie?, to their guidelines.

Talk about irony. My post about trying not to reject my right to call myself a spoonie got rejected by a media hub for spoonies. Was it because I wasn’t a real spoonie, a real writer, or both? Why does my RSD even care? I meant what I said about my ambitions lying with my day job, not professional writing, so why does it matter if narrative writing isn’t my forte? It shouldn’t, but it does. That’s why this blog exists. RSD tells me today’s rejection means I should immediately delete this blog and slink away unnoticed into a corner. It tells me that I was wrong to think I could ever be decent at something, and it tells me that the universe is communicating with me via The Mighty not to delude myself.

I know, in the scheme of things, that one rejection isn’t a big deal, especially in the writing world. By itself, especially since I asked for it, a rejection letter from The Mighty might not even have triggered a full RSD spiral. Yet, it came at a time when I was already ashamed, and it was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I won’t slink away. I promised myself I wouldn’t, but it’s hard. A lifetime of failures with ADHD – with someone always there to remind you of them – isn’t easy to shed.

Second confession: my work isn’t going well this week. I may not have been C-suite before, but I was doing okay at my career earlier this year. I was daring to think maybe I could get there, ADHD and all. Now, apparently, I’m adding another chronic physical illness into the mix, and I’m slipping more at work instead of less.

I wish I didn’t get confused about what format a deliverable was supposed to be in, and share a Google doc link to a PowerPoint that had the stats and charts my boss wanted, instead of including them in an email attachment. I wish I had heard my boss say that is what he wanted. Apparently, he made the format for the deliverable clear, he says, but I got static in the mental reception. I wish my boss hadn’t assumed I missed the deadline instead of asking me about it before it was too late. I could have resent it then, but it is too late now. I wish that miscommunication hadn’t led to a pointed email yesterday, but it did. I wish I hadn’t compounded the problem by being so self-conscious in front of my boss today that I made a bumbling mess of a routine team meeting. I wish that these examples didn’t currently have me up at 3am panicking that I’m going to be let go at my annual review in August. It’s already so hard to get the sleep I need to function.

RSD isn’t the same thing as jealousy. It causes me to feel pain when I see others’ success, but not because I want what others have or think I can only achieve something myself if someone else doesn’t. Seeing others succeed causes me pain because I feel that I’m unworthy, and seeing someone who is worthy reminds me even more of my shame. A cat may look at a king, but a girl with RSD may not. In my current RSD spiral, I’m still ecstatic to see my readers succeed. I still know the world isn’t a zero-sum game, and, rather than lowering my chances, I still know that every spoonie like me who proves herself first, whether in her career or at The Mighty, makes it more likely that I can ultimately make it, too. That’s part of the problem. It feels like these other women who have gone before are paving a solid road to success with their blood, sweat, and tears, and I’m still stupid enough to trip over it.

I started this blog because there are areas where I feel stuck in life. I’m afraid to buy a home. Living in California during the Great Recession imprinted on me that paying expensive mortgages on coastal homes without a job is a one-way ticket to bankruptcy. Homes aren’t a guaranteed investment anymore, and I’ve watched friends take new jobs in new cities, then have their houses languish on the market for years. I’m afraid I’ll somehow crash and burn through all the jobs in my field as soon as I attempt to put down roots.

I’m in my thirties. The clock is ticking, but I feel too overwhelmed to imagine adding children. I want them, in theory, but while in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is! As my mom said, “if you are struggling with maintaining just a job with your so-called ‘brain fog,’ I don’t see how you can realistically add being a mom.”

I started a blog to help me process these feelings, and, in the process, I found many other blogs by amazing women who own homes, have children, manage multiple chronic physical and mental illnesses, and manage to publish a book on the side. I’m genuinely happy to see my readers kicking stigma’s butt like that. Keep being a standard bearer for spoonies, readers!

I just wish I were one of those standard bearers, too. I wish I were the kind of girl who “showed the way” for younger girls with ADHD.  Instead, my job has been kicking my ass this week. Or maybe I should say my own mistakes at my job have been kicking my ass.

I wish I was a stigma buster, but lately my confident words on my first blog post that I need to “risk learning I don’t have the potential I hope I have to have a chance of reaching it if I do” are reading like a double bird flipped at my hopes and dreams. (My RSD helpfully suggests that maybe the naivete of those words is part of why I’m a mediocre writer…)

I finally had gotten to a point where I thought maybe I had enough of a handle on things to take the plunge on life. Instead, ADHD, fibro-or-whatever-it-is, and my own failings apparently decided to team up to kick my ass. Other people are kicking ass and taking names while dealing with more severe ADHD, more chronic pain, and worse struggles than me. If they can do it, it’s hard not to listen to my RSD when it helpfully suggests that the reason that I’m not succeeding, plain and simple, is because I’m just not as good as other spoonies.

I’m glad my readers are proving that being a spoonie doesn’t have to stop us. But, because others succeed in the face of so many more obstacles than me, I can’t justify my own spoonie-ness as a reason for self-compassion. I can’t even call myself a spoonie without feeling like a bit of a hypocrite, especially now that experts at spoonie-ness (The Mighty staff) have stoked my fears that I am not. It’s always easier to believe others about my own worth than myself. I feel like a cheater visiting the bar Alibi. Yes, I’ve been lacking more spoons than usual, but it would be disingenuous to mention it with regards to my personal failings.

Can any of my awesome, accomplished readers help me to begin to regain my confidence? Share with me your stories of failing forward! Share with me your stories of having your writing rejected, of losing your job, or of any other painful personal failures that eventually had a happy ending. Make them stories of real “screw ups” – personal mistakes that you made, with meaningful consequences – not just stories of layoffs or someone else’s mistakes. I need stories where you, my readers, were the dunces, yet you bounced back to become the awesome people you are today! (They might even end up as my first real guest posts!) I need some stories of falling flat on the road to success at first to help pick myself up and keep walking (crawling?) along that path.

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.


18 thoughts on “Trying to Knock Out Stigma and Getting My Ass Kicked Instead…

  1. I love your honesty, your heart felt words. I am over double your age and have suffered much, this has never stopped me from wanting to give something. Art, my humble poetry and volunteering help, but mostly I am inspired by persons as yourself, real stories and underlying compassion. Thankyou very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have learned the hard way that measuring my self-worth and success by others’ yardsticks, currencies, or some other metric is a sure-fire way to be miserable. I’ve been labeled roaringly successful by people whose opinions were based on solid credentials (i.e., they were award-winners in their fields) and that wasn’t enough to stop me from trying to kill myself because I felt so worthless. I’ve been called a disappointment by people who’ve done nothing of merit and that fueled my self-loathing. So long as other people have the power to define my essential worth, I’ll never feel like I measure up. It’s taken years to get here, but the true measure of success and self-worth, for me, is doing the best I can to make even a sliver of the world a better place with the gifts and talents I’ve been given. Sounds like you’re doing the best you can with what you’ve been dealt and that makes you pretty awesome. I don’t get the whole spoonie thing: I don’t know who gets to be one and why. I am glad you found my blog so I could find yours. I enjoy reading what you write.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have been feeling the same things this week. Last week my blog felt like a roaring success and I was over the moon, but this week, apart from the Fourth of July the views and likes have been turned down to a trickle, and I am overwhelmed by self doubt. Part of that is probably the depressed cycle of my bipolar kicking in, but like you, although I seriously considered taking my blog down and hiding my face in shame, I persevered and kept posting. You are so brave to have sent your work in to be published! You should keep trying. The more I read about successful authors, the more I find that the ones who get published are not necessarily the ones wth the most talent, they are the ones who got the most rejection letters. So they didn’t like the post you sent them. Send them a different one. Send that same post to other publications. Try sending it to a book publisher to see if they’d be interested in selling your blog as a book. There are tons of ways to get published, and I think you are a great writer. So don’t give up, ok?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. 1. Honestly, The Mighty is a crap site. They keep popping up as recommendations for me and I don’t find their content as good as other chronic illness sites.

    2. I have found this post very helpful:
    And perhaps it can help you, as the problems you are describing (sending a link instead of an attachment, etc) aren’t an issue of your competence, just minor and easily fixable ones of organizational flow, communication and finicky details. You have got this 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Have a look at my post The Discrimination Mushroom from earlier this week. Dealing with that attitude made me feel like a complete failure because of my mental illness.

    I’ve submitted two posts to The Mighty. The first one was published within three days of my submission. The second one, which I felt was a much better post, and was sent to align with a health condition awareness day, was rejected; “we’re not publishing this now but may at a later date” blah blah. It hit me hard! I’d had a little confidence, I’d sent something important to me, it got shot down. Ouch.
    What I’m trying to say is it’s very normal, even without things like RSD to feel this, so add it in and it’s going to hurt. So make sure you’re being extra kind to yourself.

    Your words are important, they have value, and they are wonderful to read.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Oh – and the biggest and deepest failure of my life was failing to recognize I was being abused, in three different relationships. The shame of that failure will follow me forever. If I was to tell you all my failings we’d be here a while…..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for following and sharing so candidly. I can relate. These days, I just do my best focus on my many fun, creative projects. Enjoy the day and blessings to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reading your work. And it is just that. WORK. Is truly helpful to me. You say your not kickly lifes ass becsuse the you go to the no go from the mighty. Dude. I haven’t worked in months nearly a year since becoming seriously ill and seriously a spoonie. I used to run a 17.5 million dollor business. Now I craft. At home. You got this Lady. Spoons up! Dilly dilly to making it another day-!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have been reading on your site for a while, via the links you left on my blog 😊. Not sure if you are still looking for a real life story of failure followed by a win…but I feel moved to share this. Sorry in advance for the length of this.

    I am sorry that you felt this way at the time of this writing. I can really relate to it, though. While all forms of writing can be therapeutic and enjoyable for me, publishing/sharing work is a different beast. And in my experience, ‘beast’ is an apt description. Some days it sits lovingly on your lap and gives you all sorts of comfort and good will. The next day: publishing has claws.

    In my thirties I set out to get published. Back then it was common to submit paper copies via the post office; and include an SASE with your work. I began to dread seeing those folded envelopes coming back to me with my name and address in my own handwriting. They were returned a bit too quickly and they were ALWAYS rejection letters. Even more painful knowing that I had paid the postage on my own rejection letters.

    During this same timeframe, I got cornered by a customer at work one morning. She was behaving erratically and asked me detailed questions about my faith. I shared freely. After she left, I felt really funny about the encounter and I realized she likely had a demon, as that would explain the way her head tipped back suddenly and she got strangely excited/jumpy whenever I had said: Jesus. (She had been involved in some fairly heavy occult stuff.) I called an older woman who was mentoring my faith life at the time. I left her a voice mail, completely freaked out and asking her what I was supposed to do — an exorcism, some sort of special prayer or something??? And demanding (politely of course) that she call me back ASAP as I was SCARED.

    Well, while I waited for my mentor to phone me, I decided to just quit work for the day (I am self-employed so I can do things like that) and I grabbed my personal mail on my way home. That’s when I received one of my SASE’s back. I got pretty mad, at first, thinking, ‘As if my day isn’t bad enough!? Now I’m getting ANOTHER rejection letter!’ But as I scanned the first paragraph of the letter, I realized an anthology book project had only rejected one of my essays and they were publishing the other one! They had enclosed a copy of the essay they had chosen, for me to proof and edit before it went to publication. I was a bit miffed that the one had been rejected, to be honest, because even when you have success, the rejections still trip you up. And there would be no payment as I would merely receive a ‘free’ copy of the published anthology book. But sometimes money is a lesser reward for our work. As I read through my essay which had been chosen, I broke out in goosebumps and was flooded with peace. That essay detailed an experience I’d had wherein I realized the things I had thought were evil ‘beasts’ were actually far more afraid of me than I was afraid of them. I began to cry, and then laugh. The kind of cathartic laughing that overwhelms you and which I now believe releases trapped trauma. When my mentor called me shortly thereafter, I told her I had my answer and knew what to do — (the answer: Nothing. Pay no attention to it. Whatever it was had found me scarier than I had found it). She laughed (and laughed) and insisted God has a sense of humor and that it was no accident I got my very first acceptance letter EVER on that very morning of the strange demon man cornering me.

    After that success, I landed a regular ‘gig’ and secured my own essay column in a fairly large publication. BUT, the feeling of failure and fear of rejection went on to get even worse AFTER I started regularly publishing. I would obsess over what people were thinking of me. If my work was well liked. And then beat myself up because I felt I should be able to be even more ‘truthful’ but found I couldn’t be because I didn’t want to be rejected. Friends often told me they had read my work, which scared me. They said they had read it, BUT what does that mean. Did they like it??? They didn’t always share if thoughts. In fact, it all got so bad that I quit. Pretty dumb move, career wise, but the smartest thing I did for my own personal well being. I was very sick with PTSD and anxiety disorder at the time, and I just needed to heal without the added stress that publishing was bringing into my life.

    When I started this anonymous blog last fall, I tried to incorporate the lessons from my first acceptance letter. My blog is on life support, it’s never really gone anywhere. Writing it is about my growth and healing, and my marriage too. It needs to be about that before it can be about anything else. And I probably repeat this refuting statement fifty times a day as well : Not everyone is going to like me. Not everyone is going to understand me. Having a blog on life support, and not even caring, but actually loving that few people see it and yet a few have found it which means I do have a place holder there when I need to vent or share something or other — well, it all fills me with a kind of calm that I can’t explain.

    I also think rejection is cumulative. And overcoming it is also cumulative. One acceptance letter for me undoes about ten rejection letters. (It probably undoes way more than that for someone who didn’t have a traumatic childhood filled with rejections, though). I have great hope that one of these days, those refuting statements I keep telling myself will finally be more numerous than all the rejective statements my abusers (and my own bully in my brain) once told me in my pre-recovery life and my pre- kick-the-jackwagons-out-of-my-life life. When that golden moment occurs I think I will probably have the courage to finish the novel I started years back. For now–I think God is still protecting me from the beast that is publishing–and my work remains largely unseen.

    I am ok with that, though, because I AM still writing, which is the true gift of it all, IMHO.

    Anne Lamott makes similar observations in her book Bird by Bird (about the gift writing is and ‘writing for personal reasons’ and trying to explain THAT phenomenon to her writing class students who are so eager to get published.) You might like her work if you haven’t already read it.

    Liked by 1 person

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